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From Candles to Inflatables, it’s all Christmas Magic

Garfield Ostrander lights up the holidays

- Story by Tim Collins

It’s been called the most magical time of the year. And, as any child can tell you, Christmas decorations are one of the most magical aspects of the season.

In Victoria, bright lights, inflatable characters, toys soldiers, and a host of other Christmas decorations have all suddenly materialized to deliver a message of joy, charity, and kindness to the world.

Some of the displays are relatively restrained, with perhaps only a few strings of lights on the eaves, but even those decorations send a message of celebration and hope.

Other displays are far more elaborate, consisting of a riot of lights, sounds, and the joy of the season.

But we’ll get to that.

First let’s take a quick look back at how the whole Christmas light tradition started.

It began indoors as the first recorded references to lighting Christmas trees with candles dates to Germany in 1660. Of course, that practice, which combined open flames and dry evergreens with wooden homes, held the unfortunate possibility of burning various villages to the ground. Not much of a Christmas celebration, you’d think.

Before long, the practice had spread across Europe. By 1846, even Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had a candle-lit tree in their home. We never looked back.

Things slowly became a bit safer after Thomas Edison took credit for creating the first electric Christmas lights in 1882. The real concept belonged to Edward H. Johnson, but Edison, in what was a typically Scrooge-like move on his part, took credit for the idea.

The widespread use of electric Christmas lights, first on trees and, later, on houses, took a while to catch on as not everyone had electricity and it wasn’t until the 1950s that the practice really took off.

Then, in the 1970s, low-cost, low-wattage LED lights arrived. Inflatable decorations followed as did synchronized light and sound systems and we were off to the holiday races. Lights and brightly lit decorations of every size and shape spread across North America and some folks took the ritual of decorating their homes to previously unimagined levels.

In Victoria, perhaps the most beloved of these home decorators is Garfield Ostrander.

“I’ve been doing this for over thirty years, and I love it,”

Ostrander said.

“When I was five or six years old, my mother would take me to Detroit to see the Ford Rotundra display and it was just amazing. I loved it so much that I can still remember details, all these years later still think of it when I’m setting up my display.”

Sadly, the Ford display site burned to the ground in 1962, but Ostrander, now 72 years old, said that he can still recall details of the decorations and how they made him feel. Perhaps it’s those memories that have allowed him to wave his personal magic wand over his corner of the world to make it a softer, more beautiful, and joyful place – a place that may well inspire the five year olds of today to love the season, just as Ostrander did as a child.

The display on his large property begins with a veritable army of characters, lights and displays at the front of his house. But those decorations are only the beginning.

Visitors are invited to walk the cobblestoned path to the back of the house at 783 Hutchinson Rd. where hundreds of blow-up characters, scores of plastic decorations, and tens of thousands of twinkling lights combine with a host of other decorations too varied and numerous to describe.

A miniature world of holiday happenings occupies another room adjacent to the outdoor display.

Naturally, Santa is there to greet all the guests.

“I’ve been collecting these decorations for more than 30 years and there are a lot of them that just couldn’t be replaced,” Ostrander said, gesturing to his display.

He pointed to some plastic toy soldiers that guard a section of

the pathway.

“Those go back more than 50 years,” he said. “And I’ve got some older than that. You just couldn’t replace these.”

It’s one of the reasons that Ostrander insists on placing all the display pieces himself.

“It’s a lot of work and it literally takes me months to get it all set up.

But when I see the faces of children when they come in here, or when I see someone look around and start to cry, overcome with emotion and feeling like a child again, it’s all worth it.”

Christmas, after all, isn’t a season. It’s a feeling.

Ostrander’s display opens to the public on Dec. 7 and remains open until just after Christmas.

Scan the QR code or visit for other remarkable Christmas displays.